Commission considers impact of proposed canon change

Commission clerk Bruce Myers and member Bishop Linda Nicholls at the Council of General Synod meeting in Mississauga on Nov. 15. Photo: Leigh Anne Williams
Commission clerk Bruce Myers and member Bishop Linda Nicholls at the Council of General Synod meeting in Mississauga on Nov. 15. Photo: Leigh Anne Williams
Published November 15, 2014

Mississauga, Ont.

The Commission on the Marriage Canon’s final report will incorporate not only the submissions received from Anglicans across Canada, but will also reflect consultations about how changing the church’s law to allow for same-sex marriage might affect relationships within and outside of the Anglican Church of Canada.

“It’s clear that as we engage our conversation around this potential canon, it has implications for our relationships with others – our relationships across the Anglican Communion and our relationships with our ecumenical partners,”

Bishop Linda Nicholls, a member of the commission, told the fall meeting of Council of General Synod (CoGS) Nov. 15. “And so we have sought deliberately consultation with those different groups.”

Of these consultations, “probably the one that would be most challenging is the Anglican – Roman Catholic conversation,” said Nicholls, who is co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada. She did not elaborate, but noted that the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada and the Anglican-Roman Catholic Bishops’ Dialogue of Canada both met recently and began discussion about what it would mean if the Anglican church changed its canon to allow for same-sex marriage. In a statement following their meetings Nov. 8 to 12, members of the Anglian-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada said they intend to continue the discussions on marriage and related ecclesiological questions and produce a statement for the Anglican Church of Canada’s consideration.

In recent years, same-sex blessings that have occurred in some Anglican/Episcopal churches in North America have hindered Anglican-Roman Catholic and other ecumenical dialogues at the international level. For example, from 2003 to 2005, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission suspended its activities as the Anglican Communion struggled with deep divisions over the issue of sexuality. In Canada, however, where Anglicans and Roman Catholics have been in conversations since 1971, both churches remained in dialogue amidst the same-sex blessings controversy.

Nicholls, who updated CoGS on the progress of the commission’s work, also said a particularly critical question facing the commission is how a change to the marriage canon would affect the conversations with indigenous peoples within the Anglican Church of Canada. “This is a painful conversation and a difficult one for our indigenous peoples with our church for a variety of reasons, and we want to listen carefully to the concerns that our indigenous peoples have in relation to this,” said Nicholls. She noted that the structures of General Synod are very different from the way an indigenous community might begin to discuss an issue like this.

Commissioners met with National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh on Nov. 14, just as the meeting of CoGS was beginning and shared a written statement that included a perspective from Bishop Adam Halkett of the diocese of Saskatchewan. Nicholls said the commission was “still absorbing” contents of that statement and “deciding how best we can approach this.”

With regards to other churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) already allows ministers to perform same-sex blessings or marriages, and Lutheran members of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission have shared their experience, which has been “both painful in some areas and welcomed in others,” Nicholls said. Members of the Anglican United Church Dialogue have also shared their experience when the United Church of Canada made a similar decision, she added.

The commission has consulted with Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan in her role as the director of Unity, Faith and Order of the Anglican Communion. Barnett-Cowan is expected to take the question of how such a change would been seen to the International Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order when it meets in December and to send some comments back to the commission, said Nicholls.

She noted that the motion from General Synod 2013 askedCoGS to draft a resolution and delineate a biblical and theologicalrationale for amending the canon.


Meanwhile, commission chair Canon (lay) Robert Falby said that the commission is also looking at rationales for refusing to amend the canon. “They are included in the submissions that were made to us and they will be reflected in the report.”

“We also recognize that at some level, this is a no-win proposition,” added Nicholls. “Whatever we put forward, there will be those who are unhappy, in pain, struggling.”

The commissioners hope to produce a report that raises questions about the implications of changing the canon that General Synod needs to consider, said Nicholls. “They might be implications for our communion relationships, our ecumenical relationships, they might be implications for our theology… We want people to be able to see the whole picture.”

Nicholls also said that the commission’s final report to COGS would need to be in a form that can be used as a resource for the General Synod delegates in preparation for their meeting in 2016. “We want to produce a resource that is concise and readable for everyone… with full appendices and footnotes for those want more in-depth [information.]”

Falby said that although it was beyond their mandate, the commissioners are concerned about the process for dealing with the marriage canon issue at General Synod. “We need to have appropriate consultation with indigenous people. We need to have this discussion in a manner where people can be heard, something of the nature of what we did in 2010 on the issue of blessing of same-gender unions,” he said.



  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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